General Football Chat

In Search of the SWPL

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The second half of the Scottish Women’s season is about to get underway following the traditional midsummer break. Hibernian and Glasgow City sit head and shoulders above the rest with the Edinburgh side looking to end City’s 11 year run of domestic dominance. Both sides on 35 points with 11 wins and two draws to their names with an end of season showdown already feeling inevitable. I often attend women’s games, choosing real life entertainment against whatever Premier League fixture have cobbled together under the guise of “Super Sunday” but for many a stigma remains, one that dictates that the quality isn’t very good and that nobody really cares. But what’s the cause of this and is there a resolution to be found?

A first attempt to find a list of women’s fixtures instantly flags an issue. Whilst the Scottish Women’s Football (SWF) website is a reliable source, including regularly updated kick off times and locations across all senior women’s leagues it’s a resource that is only known to those that know. Google obviously helps but statistics dictate that your average fan is more than likely to head to one of the two behemoths of web/app based sports coverage in the UK, namely the BBC and Sky Sports. The problem is should you rely solely on these then your search for Scottish women’s fixtures will be ultimately fruitless.

This, along with coverage in general, been a constant source of bemusement to me for some time, with BBC Scotland particularly culpable such is their perceived lack of ability to cover the mere basics. A deficiency made even more stark when you look at the coverage the women’s game gets south of the border on the very same site. While an entire subsite is dedicated to the women’s game direct from the BBC Sport home page this is very much an England centric proposition. Here you can find latest news from the clubs, view fixtures and league tables. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Scottish football does feature but the aforementioned basics are nowhere to be found.

Then there is the Women’s Football Show a regularly scheduled look at the going on’s within the Women’s Super League (WSL) including match highlights and interviews with prominent figures. The Women’s FA Cup Final is now a key part of the BBC’s May Bank Holiday schedule, broadcast in full HD and with over 45,000 in attendance at this years final. It feels like a big deal. Meanwhile in Scotland fans are treated to BBC Alba and picture quality that would have raised cries of derision twenty years ago. At least you’ll get to brush up on your Gaelic. There will be some people who read this and automatically go into defence mode, how it’s not Scotland’s fault and how we are forever marginalised on a UK scale. There is a smidgen of merit in that, anybody who has lived in the south of England particular will have had at least one conversation about Scotland that has left you dumbfounded in its ignorance but are the people that should be held for account not those in charge of the BBC Sport Scotland mandate? Is it not their job to be that voice?

There is some evidence they are trying though, albeit in a near typical backwards fashion. During the World Cup a common consensus formed that Alex Scott – by taking the rare approach of combining enthusiasm and research to her football punditry brief – was a welcome addition to the coverage. Sportscene had already followed that path somewhat and have had current and former Scottish Women’s footballers appear on Sportscene and Radio Scotland to pass comment on frequent occasion although the coverage itself on these outlets can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. There is also, usually, a couple of articles buried on the Scottish Football section of the website giving a summary of the weekend’s action although it’s regular brevity leaves you wondering how much pressure is put on to produce high quality content. BBC Alba does at least play the game a little, not only showing the Scottish Cup Final but regular coverage of both international women’s football and the odd Glasgow City European adventure, though once again you do have to ask if this really is the best way to get new eyes on the game?

I’m not sure that the blame should be left solely at the BBC’s door though. Imagine if you will that you have somehow made your way to the SWF website and now find yourself looking at the upcoming Sunday’s fixtures. The likelihood is that you will already support a men’s side and so naturally you peruse the page looking for their female equivalent.

Unfortunately that doesn’t always work.

Let’s take this weekend for example. Not only is it the return of the women’s season but it is also kick off time for the SPFL. On Sunday, Aberdeen play Rangers in the stand out fixture of the weekend as Steven Gerrard makes his league debut away to one of the teams his side will be looking to overhaul. With a 1pm Sunday kick off to allow for TV coverage you would think that this would provide you the perfect opportunity to get yourself down to your first women’s match. Well, I’m sorry to report, you would be wrong. Whilst the seagulls at Pittodrie look on in hungry anticipation of that first flung pie in the SWPL Aberdeen travel to Dalkeith to take on Hearts at 2pm whilst Rangers travel to Station Park to take on Forfar Farmington. The kick off time there? 1pm. So I ask, as a fan with a stronger connection to the men’s side than women’s of one of these two sides, what choice are you most likely to make? For many it’s an easy decision.

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This isn’t confined to same club conflicts though and often top women’s games are forced to clash with the best that Scottish football offer. For example, the 2017 Scottish Women’s Cup Final was played at the same time as the men’s Scottish League Cup Final. I mean give yourselves a chance! Now there’s reasons for this, pitch availability I have seen often cited but when the SWPL, and in turn the SFA, don’t make the game a priority how can they expect a fan too?

Irrespective of the challenges above you’ve thrown caution to the wind and picked a fixture, the next thing you need to know is where you need to go. Most women’s clubs will have somewhere that they call “home”. Teams with affiliations to their male counterparts will often ground share such as Forfar Farmington (Station Park) and St. Johnstone (McDiarmid Park). Some clubs will host their women’s fixtures at local junior or lower league ground such as Rangers at New Tinto Park just a ten minute walk from Ibrox and Hibernian at Ainslie Park home of Lowland League Spartans. The recurring theme, and by association the problem, is that while these teams will have a “home” none of them are a place that they could call their own and so on occasion they have to go on the move. Where they move to though is often telling of the challenges the women’s game in Scotland faces.

Let’s take a look at the 3rd Round of the SSE Scottish Women’s Cup. Scottish women’s football most successful club and current SWPL champions Glasgow City host league counterparts Stirling University. The dominant force in Scottish women’s football for well over a decade have been most recently based out of Petershill Park in the north of the city. For this tie, arguably the pick of the round, they find themselves based at St. Mungo’s Academy, a school linked sports complex close to their spiritual home. They’re not the only ones though, Hearts usually based from Kings Park, home of Dalkeith Thistle, host Spartans at Glencorse Community Centre. It’s hard for critics to take the women’s game seriously when you’re watching teams being hurried off the park because the local men’s amateur game is next up.

So you’ve managed to find a fixture, you’ve mapped your path there and triple checked the kick off time. You walk up to the venue and find yourself wondering just what should you expect from your first women’s football experience? The honest answer is pretty much anything.

Much like at any level or grade of football the quality of play in show could be anything from utterly mundane to totally ludicrous with the majority falling somewhere in between. For example, a Scottish Cup tie between Blackburn United and Ayr United that I attended earlier in the season finished 10-9 after extra time, it was a mere 8-8 after 90 minutes. The quality wasn’t great but the drama as the game ebbed and flowed would be the stuff of TV executive wet dreams. An hour later I was back in Glasgow watching a fairly tame 2-0 win for Queen’s Park against Morton. You are probably more likely to get the odd 15 goal procession as the standard varies greatly from top to bottom but even those sometimes provide their own strange little spectacle.

Quality of play aside, what else do you need to know? Well, it’s a bit of a bargain with even the top sides rarely charging more than £5 although I would suggest that you have low expectations around catering facilities. Scotland games aside I am yet to find a women’s game where a pie can be had although usually there’ll be a way to at least find a beverage. Also whilst modern football stadia confines you to just one seat, given the relative sparse nature of the crowds and the types of venues these games take place at, you will be free to roam the terraces looking for the perfect spot. You will also invariably end up in a conversation with someone who is usually a friend or relative of one of the players.

All that being said the experience you have will be very much dependent on your mindset going into it. If you go with expectations of seeing the female versions of Messi and Ronaldo duelling in front of a packed stadium then I suggest you have a re-think. If however, you turn up with an open mind then I suggest the experience you have will be considerably better than lying flat on your couch as Huddersfield and Southampton do battle in pursuit of 15th place in the Premier League.

In a country where the women’s national side is infinitely more successful than their male counterparts it seems strange to say that the domestic game hasn’t really progressed all that much. Whilst Hibernian have emerged as real challengers to Glasgow City’s monopoly on the SWPL title, a recent top of the table clash between the two had an attendance no more than a couple of hundred and was delayed due to a lower league game being played on the same pitch running late. Top Scottish players now in the main play abroad and I have no doubt that some of the challenges covered here will have played a part in that.

Taking all things into consideration though it is important that you don’t let the sparse attendances make you think that the SWPL doesn’t matter. That you don’t use the occasional sloppy pass as a trigger to question it’s quality. Don’t let a 12-0 win let you think it isn’t competitive and don’t let a lack of media presence let you think that it’s not worth talking about. So why not take a chance one Sunday afternoon, you just might like it.

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Russia 2018: 32 Reasons to Support Everyone!

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picture courtesy of outsports.com

Did you know that it’s 20 years since Scotland opened France ’98 with a 2-1 defeat to a Ronaldo led Brazil. Whilst some mystery still remains around exactly what happened to the Brazilian striker prior to kick off of the final that year names such as Robbie Stockdale, Gary Kenneth and Darren Barr can be quickly pulled as evidence as to why the Tartan Army continue to be absent from the world’s biggest football party.

Fear not though as I have found a reason for you to not only support just one but every single country at this year’s tournament, allowing you the luxury of knowing that even in defeat you can still celebrate glory. So without further ado here it is…

32 Reasons to Support Every Country at Russia 2018

Group A

RussiaGiven my desire to live to see my next birthday let’s just say we like Irn Bru and in Mother Russia they are pretty keen on it too. In fact until recently it was more popular than worldwide leader Coca Cola, in part due to its resemblance to an old Soviet beverage. I’m just glad I’m not the one that has to tell them that Barr’s have recently changed the recipe!

Saudi ArabiaWe both have governments who like a bit of oil.

EgyptAndrew Robertson is team mate and *best friend with Mohammed Salah at Liverpool. Andrew Robertson is officially the greatest left back in the history of football and all around good egg. Mohammed Salah is also a good egg. Don’t think you need much more reason than that.

*they might not be best friends

Uruguay Had the good grace at Mexico ’86 to not only boot Scotland all over the park but also record the quickest sending off in World Cup history when Jose Batista was sent back to the change room after 52 seconds of their group decider. The fact Scotland then proceeded to draw 0-0 and as a result be eliminated from the tournament should not be held against them and at this point we should take the opportunity to turn the other cheek and support La Celeste as they literally kick, bite and scratch their way through Russia 2018.

Group B

PortugalRicardo. Inevitably beating England was going to feature in here. It was Euro 2004 and a group of us had gathered in a Scottish pub just off the main Magaluf strip to watch as the Portuguese keeper committed trolling of the highest order by first saving Darius Vassell’s penalty with his gloves off and then stepping up to score the winning penalty. What followed was a night, which until this day, I have zero recollection of.

SpainReally when Spain won the World Cup in 2008 it was all thanks to us. Back in 1899 two Scots formed Spain’s oldest football club, Recreativo Huelva. Without these footballing pioneers it’s fair to assume that a game of football may never have reached the Iberian Peninsula. Tiki Taka would never have been born and we never would’ve known how handsome Isco was. Spain (and planet earth) you are welcome.

MoroccoIf it hadn’t been for Morocco’s love of a shot during their 3-0 defeat of Scotland  at France ’98 (the commentary in this clip is incredible)there is a very real possibility that Jim Leighton would still be getting a game as Scotland’s first choice keeper. For helping us to avoid this circumstance we should be forever grateful.

IranAlexander Samizadeh. Kilmarnock legend and one of the shining lights of the Lee McCulloch era. Such was his footballing prowess that on last review of his Wikipedia page his skills have now transcended the need to play for a football team. 

Group C

FranceCarnaval de Paris by Dario G was the last World Cup Song that was an absolute banger not matter how many times, even now, I find myself randomly going Waka Waka, damn you Shakira! You know why? Because we had qualified, which meant that it had bagpipes in it. A French win would no doubt bring memories flooding back of their triumph that year and lead to a renaissance for this dance floor classic.

Australia A shared love for BBQ’s whatever the weather should never be underestimated.

Peru Many years from now as Peruvian football analysts and commentators look back on the glory of winning the 2018 World Cup they will often reference that night in late May. That night where they knew that if they could somehow both shackle Oli McBurnie and squeeze a shot (or two past) Jordan Archer then they would be ready to win it all. Scotland had prepared them and because of this we too can bask in their glory.

DenmarkIn the absence of Finland and Norway (positioned at number 1 & 2) Denmark are officially the happiest country at the World Cup according to the latest World Happiness Report. There are however concerns that this ranking will plummet with the news that Nicklas “I can’t believe he hasn’t ended up in Scotland yet” Bendtner has not made the squad. A World Cup win would surely keep them smiling.

Group D

ArgentinaThat goal…World Cup 2006, Argentina v Serbia & Montenegro, 25 passes ending with Esteban Cambiasso passing it in. What other one would I be talking about?

IcelandThe English National Football Team have been living their own “Banter Years” for over two decades now. At Euro 2016 Iceland provided the world with perhaps their most banterous moment yet when they knocked Roy’s Boys out. A feat so unbelievable that people thought it was acceptable to cut arm holes in Iceland carrier bags and don them whilst dancing about the streets in celebration clapping aggressively in passer-by’s faces.

CroatiaTheir group opponents may have had more than three million pre-orders of their new World Cup Kit but Croatia are the ”OG” of the strong football kit game. The red and white checked design more emblematic than any other in the modern era. They also have Luka Modric and he’s just lovely.

NigeriaAll we need is Ikechi Anya *clap clap* Ikechi Anya *clap clap* ikechi Anya. It seems only fair to support the Super Eagles after the destroyer of the Macedonians and frightener of the Germans chose Scotland over his father’s home nation of Nigeria.

Group E

Brazil They’re the favourites plus that Joga Bonito airport advert is still the absolute tits 20 years later.

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Women are currently in the same World Cup Qualifying Group 2 as our lassies. A success in Russia for their men’s side would surely result in them disbanding all football activities knowing that they had indeed peaked leaving a clear path for Shelly Kerr & Co. to saunter their way to France 2019.

Costa RicaWhilst there are some teams Scotland have played only once and lost to. In Costa Rica we have an opponent in which we have not only played multiple times but also boast a perfect losing  record of played 2, lost 2. With this astonishing record in mind it is our duty to ensure that the uncrowned greatest football nation of all time finally take seat at the head of football’s top table.

 

SerbiaEh. They’re not England? Other than a really depressing story about housing World War One refugees in Edinburgh and referencing former Rangers midfielder Dragan Mladenovic I’ve got nothing here.

Group F

Germany Thomas Muller is an absolute LOL Factory.

Mexico The winner stays on rule. A common technique used by football fans with no club of their own. Supporting a team up until they get knocked out, only to then switch allegiances to the team that had just declared victory until they too get knocked and so on. As Slovakia failed to even make the play-offs after beating us to second in the group stages, Mexico as Scotland’s last opponent before the World Cup are our next best bet.

Sweden Because if you don’t Zlatan will Zlatan you with his Zlatans and you will be left in a Zlatany mess, Zlattaned, Zlats and totally Ibrahimoviced…ZLATAN!

South Korea – After letting Oliver Burke and Billy Gimour rout their U21 team at the Toulon tournament it seems only fair that we give some support to our Korean friends. In other news it’s disappointing to report that on review of their final 23 man squad that not a single name can be turned into some sort of childish innuendo.

Group G

Belgium Both the Tartan Army and the Manneken Pis in Brussels demonstrate a fondness for urinating in public. One is a considered a symbol of a cities sense of humour and independence of mind. The other is fuelled by thousands of litres of Tennents on match day. Either way, at Russia 2018, let us pee together!

Panama In the 1700’s Scotland once tried to establish a colony on Panama called “Caledonia”. Unsurprisingly the Central American climate did not sit with the lads and it was a massive failure. Caledonia by Dougie Maclean is a good song. Here ends this tenuous link.

TunisiaBilel Mohsni has been capped a staggering 6 times by Tunisia (ACTUAL VIDEO EVIDENCE). He was even named in their preliminary squad for this year’s tournament! Any country that can show that level of benevolence deserves nothing but our full support.

EnglandOther than geographical proximity this bunch of England players seem annoyingly pleasant. In fact the English media have done such a good job of hounding Raheem Sterling there is a tiny little part of me that wants to see him score a hat trick before unveiling a tattoo of a giant middle finger. The fact that this hat-trick would then prompt a Panamanian comeback for the ages on route to a 5-3 win and thus eliminating the Three Lions from the tournament two games in is just a minor detail.

Group H

PolandIf it wasn’t for some of the development that Barry Douglas undertook at Lech Poznan then Scotland wouldn’t possibly be in possession of one of the best third choice left backs in Europe. Unfortunately a similar experiment involving Ziggy Gordon at Jagiellonia Białystok was considerably less successful.

 

Senegal – It was going to be near impossible to do “32 reasons to..” without showing a little bias somewhere. Mouhamed “Sena” Niang, was living in Senegal up until six years ago when he and his family moved to Scotland. Now 18 he currently plays in midfield for my local junior side Pollok FC recently winning 3 MOTM awards in 4 games. Russia 2018 may be far too early for this very promising youngster but allow me to get carried away and imagine a future World Cup where a former Pollok player takes the field. No harm in getting some pro-Senegal practice in early.

ColombiaI don’t know about you but I got a wee bit fed up of seeing Alfredo Morelos’ face tripping him constantly towards the end of the Scottish Premiership season. So let’s get a smile on that wee buffalo coupon with a Colombian World Cup win. Of course Carlos Valderrama’s hair cannot go without a mention here although worryingly he has suggested that if Colombia win the big one his hair will be no more.

Japan If it wasn’t for their invite to the Kirin Cup in 2006 then to this day we would have never known what a Scotland captain lifting the most prestigious trophy in the whole of world football would look like. The fact we have not been invited back to defend this title only goes to show the fear we struck in the hearts of all nations that glorious May day.

So there you have it, 32 reasons to support every country, including England at the 2018 World Cup.